Structuring Presentations Successfully

Introduction, main body, conclusion

Whether it takes twenty minutes or two hours, every presentation needs the right structure to keep the audience enthralled while delivering all the significant information in a way that the audience will remember. From the introduction through to the conclusion, what matters is building just the right level of tension so that the content is accessible to the audience members and retains their interest. The structure of a presentation should therefore not just be clearly divided into sections, but should also align closely with its content. That is why it’s worthwhile to create visual connections through judicious use of PowerPoint. Visual aids underscore the relevant content so that the audience remembers it for longer, as well as giving a clearer sense of the direction the presentation is taking.

The introduction

There are two common ways to open a presentation. One way implicitly assumes that the speaker is addressing a group that has similar interests, and therefore shares approximately the same level of knowledge. In this scenario, it is appropriate to get the audience onside by referring to that shared, prior knowledge and “embarking on a journey together.” The advantage of this approach is that the audience is quickly put at ease, and audience members enter their comfort zones. The other option aims to achieve exactly the opposite effect: by opening their presentation with something surprising or provocative, or mentioning a shocking fact, speakers can induce uncertainty in their audience. The advantage of this method is that the speaker can now be sure of the audience’s undivided attention, as it eagerly awaits the next shocking revelation.

Regardless of the approach the presenter chooses, PowerPoint presentations can be a valuable supporting tool: after the first slide, which should show the title of the presentation, clear facts and figures, a striking image or even a video can come next, depending on the preferred approach. At this stage, the aim is to win the audience over and to build tension. A written overview of what will happen during the presentation should also be provided as a simple, easy-to-understand table of contents to give audience members a way of orienting themselves and showing them what to expect.

There is one other important point that many presenters forget: introduce yourself! Audience members want to know who they are dealing with – and by putting yourself forward and giving up your anonymity, you also begin to win the audience’s sympathy.

Main body of the presentation

The goal of the main body of the presentation is to deliver the core message. The core message can be brought into focus right at the outset, and can remain at the forefront throughout the presentation. This presenting style has the advantage that audience members can always follow the content and understand individual concepts, because they know where the presentation is heading right from the start. Another option is to piece the presentation together step by step, culminating in the revelation of the core message at the end. This creates constructive tension, keeping the audience’s attention because no one knows the conclusion that awaits. The choice of approach is closely linked to the topic and the kind of audience that the presentation is aimed at.

Just as an effective structure is important to the success of the main body of a presentation, the PowerPoint slide deck also requires its own structure to advance an argument successfully. Every relevant message in the presentation should have its own slide, so that the individual points are broken down visually: “There´s no reason to crowd several ideas onto one slide. Slides are free. Make as many as you need to give each idea its own moment.” (Duarte, 2012). However, too many slides in quick succession run the risk of not registering in the audience’s memory and, in the worst case, can cause confusion. For that reason, allow three to five minutes per slide, and only create visuals for key messages. Don’t forget: the PowerPoint presentation should support the delivery, not steal the show!

The conclusion

The conclusion has an important role to play in the presentation’s structure, so it should not be neglected. The findings of the main body of the presentation are summarized and are once again tied to the core message, building up to a powerful finale. The ending breaks the tension that has been maintained throughout the presentation, potentially allowing for an open ending that can transition into a group discussion. Generally, however, a look back at the introduction is a good idea, so that the audience gains an overarching view of the entire concept. The linking of the introduction with the conclusion can be supported by the PowerPoint presentation to particularly good effect. If the presenter uses the same images and facts as at the start of the presentation, these facts can be used, alongside the concepts explored in the presentation and the insights contained in the content to convey the central message. Particularly when the presenter has opted for the element of surprise at the start, the result is an all-encompassing moment of enlightenment as the audience forms its opinions on the issues at hand. The presentation should conclude with a slide that gives the speaker’s contact details, allowing for interactions to take place beyond the initial event. Beamium offers an effective solution that allows presenters to retain the audience’s attention even after the presentation has finished: Beamium allows audience members to save the entire presentation on their own devices. This means that they can not only follow the presentation live, but can also return later to access it again and again.

Source: HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations, Nancy Duarte, 2012

Author: beamium